What books or authors have mattered most in your level up journey?
Searching for books that matter most can be daunting with the wide selection available out there. Asking avid readers for their personal recommendations can be one shortcut to find books that matter in all that clutter.
These are the books that mattered most in my journey of self-development. (Excludes technical and religious books). Perhaps one of them has the answers and questions you need.
The fixed mindset is THE highway to hell. Its obsession with outcomes gives birth to perfectionism, external locus of control, learned helplessness, the constrictive attitude, schadenfreude, envy, and more.
The growth mindset is the foundation of all empowerment, learning, and overcoming. Believing that any failure or success is temporary, that our traits can be improved if we train (or do not use them), gives birth to:
- grit, the top predictor of success
- internal locus of control
- the positive expansive attitude
- mitfreude (from the German mit Freude, joy-with, feeling joy at seeing others succeed or feel happy. The opposite of schadenfreude.)
- facing obstacles with an empowering attitude
- the willingness to experiment
- and so much more.
A tidy living space lets you be more centered, calm, and less stressed. You get to be free of unnecessary baggage. No more dust allergies because your room is easier to clean. Know and find everything you physically own.
Where you live daily and what you experience daily… the sum of that is your life.
In the 20 years before I encountered Marie Kondo, I tried to tidy only to end up with the same problems rearing their ugly heads.
The more untidy your life and room is, the more you can benefit from what she has to share. (I implemented her ideas after moving back home from college. I had two of every item, my room was so full I had no place to sleep on. It used to take me 30 minutes to get dressed to find clothes. My room was buried under more than 10 years of papers and books).
Now my room is the most comfortable, tidiest, and cleanest place in the house.
It is her core principles on what to keep, how to let go gratefully, and how to store items that really make her methods work.
Creative Recovery. Unblock your creative powers. Julia will show you that it’s okay to reconnect with your creative powers, it’s okay to have fun again, it’s okay to receive nourishment. She covers many key themes and assumptions that make living creatively fun and doable.
For years, I was a blocked writer and artist. I let perfectionism, the fixed mindset, and the opinion of others shame me from even putting words onto paper. It was her encouragement, mindset, and exercises that made it possible to start again.
For INFPs, I’d recommend it even more since it addresses our strengths whatever our craft. Beginning or advanced creatives can stand to be more open.
It’s not for everyone since some people aren’t fans of spirituality and play.
However, this book emphasizes on spirituality for good reason. When we are ego-centered, when we try to create from a place of “I am awesome/brilliant,” it is easy to get blocked because all responsibility is on our shoulders. We meet the page or canvas alone. We are building castles in the sky with no firm foundation, our well runs dry.
When we create while feeling connected to a higher existence, we feel connected to the whole of existence. This could be a God for the religious, the social unconscious, the force, the ancestors, the connectedness of all things, good orderly direction, or whatever you believe in. What matters is that you trust in something bigger than yourself. Why? Because you will meet the page or canvas you create on with everything you are connected to.
Rather than a castle in the sky (reaching up), you can reach down into this sort of divine wellspring where all creation comes from. It’s like characters and ideas bubble up to the surface. It’s like making your unconscious your ally.
I know that can sound airy-fairy. However, when I started reaching down, writing became easy and fun again.
It’s not plagiarism either, more like creating a new combination from which your ‘self’ is part of the new ‘origin.’
“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal;
bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.
The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn.”T.S. Eliot
Perhaps Creativity by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi can explain that in a more scientific manner. Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon is straightforward advice on the nuts and bolts of creativity.
For those who do need to rediscover creativity, this might just be the saving grace they need.
There is a reason why the founding fathers of the US, top athletes, and great thinkers all apply the principles of Stoicism. Their core principles, ethics, and virtues will ground us on what really matters in life.
It was Epictetus who taught me to accept death gracefully, to let go of anxiety, to be free of the opinions of others.
From Marcus Aurelius, I learned how to handle responsibility with grace and virtue. From Seneca, we can realize that we have enough time to live, it is just that we waste much of it.
A preview of some concepts:
Focus. Locus of Control: Things outside our control are indifferent. Things within our control, within our reasoned choice, even our own response, is the battleground of good and evil.
Right Action: 4 Virtues, Responsibility as freedom, Summum bonum (the highest good), the discipline of a soldier/athlete
Acceptance: Amor fati (Love fate, coined by Nietzsche), Memento mori (Remember you are mortal), Premeditatio malorum (Imagine how things can go wrong so you are prepared for when they do).
I would call him the best mentor in autonomy. He shows how to personally be the master of your time and freedom.
This book (and the long-term travel it helped bring about) inspired Tim Ferriss’ The 4 Hour Workweek.
Long-term world travel is possible, more possible than we imagine. He has included many world travelers of the past and present to show that yes, a lot of people are with you on the dream and reality of travel.
Robert Greene’s specialty is a marriage of power strategies and the classics. It feels like he reads a thousand books then distills their most potent gems into one book on a topic.
Some people may accuse him of being amoral. However, his work is more on realism. Rather than a debate on whether a theory exists or not, he focuses more on what works or not.
The Laws of Human Nature (Why, Drives) – it’s a masterpiece on how to be a better human and be aware of the drives that push and pull at us. Don’t come to this book expecting facts and figures, it’s grounded in historical examples instead.
Art of Seduction (persuasion), like Greene, says, “everyone wants to be seduced,” that is communicated with in a way that addresses one’s needs and desires. He tackles the seductive characters (attractive traits), victim types (common weaknesses because what we feel we lack), and the seductive process (the stages of seduction, whether to continue or drop the seduction).
Surprisingly, this was a great aid in reading and writing for the romance genre. It’s also an interesting read for those whom persuasion is their bread and butter.
33 Strategies of War, how to execute ideas into reality. This is a masterpiece in execution. All the theories and advantages in the world can’t help someone who won’t execute on it. (Surprisingly, this book has helped me a lot in overcoming my blocks and finishing my writing).
The 48 Laws of Power, how not to get bullied in this competitive world.
Mastery, the greatest power we can unlock is to become a master of our chosen domain of knowlege/action. In the Self-Determination Theory triangle, it is Competence that lets us negotiate for more Autonomy and Relatedness.
The 50th Law, boldness, fearlessness
Note that Robert Greene is also the mentor of Ryan Holiday. The Daily Stoic did a wonderful interview of Greene on his Laws of Human Nature.
The world does have competition, it does have people who will use the techniques of power, war, and seduction against us. It is a great aid in being prepared.
Think about it, who would benefit if you never learn the techniques of power? If you stay ignorant of what is really happening in an interaction?
For those who want power (potential realized), it will be more beneficial for them to condemn these books in public while using them as a reference in private. As Josh Kaufman says in The PersonalMBA, Power is a neutral tool. You can learn it and use it for the good too.
[Fair warning, the books are a dense read. I personally have the Kindle edition and the Audible audiobooks. (Though I do have Human Nature and Mastery as hardbound books). I listened for maybe an hour a day while commuting or reading chores. I only looked at the text when I needed to review concepts or take notes.]
He is a living example of the growth mindset in action in all areas of one’s life.
“If you want to be in the top 1% of a particular domain, then you can’t take your cues from and follow the social norms of 99% of people.
This is harder than it sounds. We are wired to imitate. The further you want to climb, the more carefully you need to construct your tribe.”James Clear, from his newsletter 3 ideas, 2 quotes, 1 question (September 19, 2019)
Josh is someone who is in the top 1% of 2 or more domains. This is a peek inside his mind.
(If I need a positive influence to take me out of the fixed mindset rut, I do chores while listening to the audiobook).
I can’t spoil the ending but, let’s just say this has taught me more about being a whole integrated human, about defeating procrastination, and about waking up to our own potential than any other story.
Le Guin is a master at storytelling and she has done some things in this magical fantasy that were revolutionary. She did the magic academy thing decades before Harry Potter was in vogue. She wrote this book in 1968, when it was beyond the time to cast dark and brown skinned people as the heroes of a story. (I’d tell you more, but I don’t want to spoil it!)
Bonus) Your own live performances: Acting, Improv, Public Speaking
Why are these life changing? Because they teach physicality (body control), emotional control, and how to be in the moment. Rather than learn from a book, there’s a lot of fun and practicality in performing.
As Robert Greene demonstrated in Seduction, much of what others see is only the surface, the theatrics, the spectacle. (Rather than bemoan this, it’s easier to have fun with it and enjoy the roles we can take up in life).
Others only seeing the surface can be a good thing in live performance. You can be very nervous while giving a public speech, yet no one notices. All you need is some control of your body and an outline of your content.
Stella Adler’s method for acting focuses on visualization, observation, and imagination. All techniques that can be useful to writers as well. When I learned her methods at PETA Theater‘s Basic Acting class, I was surprised at how healthy and controlled it was – how much it could be applied into philosophy, into a life well lived.
Some acting techniques can be harmful or limiting to the practitioner. (For example, taking Method acting too far or relying heavily on emotional recall). Stella’s way can help an actor rise above their personal experiences. After all, our own modern pedestrian experiences can hardly prepare us for the role of Hamlet if we only relied on recall and ‘being natural.’
Toastmasters (Where Leaders are Made) is a great place to learn public speaking and meet interesting, driven people. I’ve attended in clubs from 2012-2015 and 2018 onwards. (When I left the theater and acting in 2016, I missed the thrill of being on-stage communicating with others.) Toastmasters is a great way of improving your communication skills, the evaluation is encouraging, the people are welcoming and spirited.
If that’s not convincing enough: Susan Cain prepared for her TEDTalk and book tour by attending Toastmasters.
Pick One and Go Forth
Let’s go back to the basic rules of making non-fiction reading possible:
- Pick one thing that you either: a) find interesting, b) need most right now
- Skim or use summaries
- Read closely on the parts you need
Life-changing books are most life-changing when we pick them up at the point in our life that we need them the most. How about you, which books or experiences will you do next?